How to Grow Tomatoes
It’s difficult to ignore the empty vegetable shelves in the supermarkets right now. The unseasonable weather in Europe, along with rising fuel costs, water shortages and viruses, have had an immediate and real impact on food supply. According to the World Food Programme, the world faces a global hunger crisis of unprecedented proportions, with 345 million people in 82 countries facing or at risk of acute food insecurity, fuelled by conflict, climate shocks and Covid-19. Ireland imported 890,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables in 2020, a 43% increase in total fruit & vegetable imports since 1992, with only 1% of farmers growing vegetables here, leaving us in a vulnerable position with our food security.
Given the above, if you’ve never grown tomatoes, or vegetables in general, now might be a good time to start! If you’re in Ireland or the UK and you haven’t already sown tomato seeds, the following might help you start growing. If you’re not sure about timings for starting seed, you might find this video of interest.
Tomatoes grow really well in greenhouses and polytunnels, but if we have a good summer, they will also grow well outside once they have shelter and are in a sunny spot. I’ve successfully grown tomatoes outside in gardens with groups over the years, be it in large containers in multipurpose compost, as well as grow bags and raised beds.
Saving Tomato Seeds
To begin with, chose a variety (or several) of seeds that you like the sound of. This year I’m growing a few, including Bodglut, Arctic Circle and one of our favourites, Dzintare Lasite from Irish Seedsavers. I used to save the seeds and share them, but whilst on a Seed Guardian course last year, I learnt that tomatoes are very promiscuous. I might have thought I was sharing my Dzintare’s, but they could have been a hotch potch of any of the other varieties! If you do want to save tomato seeds, stick to the one variety unless you have a good bit of space between varieties.
Once you have your seeds, some containers and compost, get sowing!
After a while, and it will really depend upon your growing and weather conditions to determine how long, you will have to ‘prick your seedlings out’ and move them to a larger container. I wait for at least four leaves to appear on my seasons before I do that, the first initial seed (or cotyledon) leaves, and then the following true leaves.
As the tomato plants grow and develop, they will needed supporting, weeding, feeding and watering. The video below explains how to care for bush and cordon varieties of tomatoes, including removing their side shoots where necessary.
Finally, this video shares some tips about watering. Aimed at a polytunnel or greenhouse, some of the tips will help you outdoors too.
It’s worth mentioning that tomatoes are in the potato family and as a result, are prone to similar diseases, including potato blight (Phytophthora infestans). This is a parasitic fungus that travels on the wind under certain temperatures and humidity. If you see a weather warning, keep an eye out in your garden. There’s a product called Bordeaux Mixture that can be used as a preventative measure. If your tomato plants become infected, unfortunately, there’s not a huge amount we can do organically.
Tomato seeds will last several years if you keep them in a cool, airtight container. You can find more about seeds and their care here.
Once you start harvesting, you can find lots of tomato recipes on the blog, including a great green tomato chutney if they haven’t all ripened by the end of the season.